1918 September 14

Eugene Debs Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Anti-War Speech


Anti-war leader and Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison on this day for an anti-war speech to Socialist Party members in Canton, Ohio, on June 16, 1918. Debs was one of the most prominent victims of the repression of dissent during World War I. In his Canton speech he carefully did not mention the war and did not criticize President Woodrow Wilson, speaking only against war in general from a Socialist perspective. Nonetheless, he was prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction, on March 10, 1919, rejecting his First Amendment claims.

President Warren G. Harding pardoned Debs, who was by then very ill, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1921, and he was released from prison.

Read Debs’ famous Canton speech: https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1918/canton.htm

Actor Mark Ruffalo reads Debs’ Canton Ohio speech against war: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGp-0G1p4M

Learn more about Debs: Nick Salvatore: Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (1982)

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